Nick Clegg on faith schools

From an interview given this week to The Jewish News:

If we are to create a society in which everyone has a fair chance in life, we need to focus on education, above all. Faith schools have an important role to play in that, and I am keen that they become engines of integration, not of segregation. I would like to see faith schools working together, so you get a network of different schools and faiths. That way children will grow up in an environment where they are aware of the plurality of faiths and views around them.

The interview also covers topics such as tackling antisemitism and the Middle East peace process. You can read the rest of the interview here.

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185 Comments

  • Rabi Martins 30th Dec '07 - 10:50am

    I am a little puzzled here.

    Nick says “he does not do God” Yet here he is advocating faith schools which are very much designed to do God

    Personally I have have grave concerns of advocating more faith schools. The argument that because they already exist more should be allowed is to me a false premise on which to determine whether more faith schools will help create a more cohesive community

    Surely schools should focus on giving our young people skills to cope in an increasingly competitive global world.
    Faith schools by their very nature are insular and focus on the community – religious or ethnic – it serves and is less concerned about its relations to the wider community.

    The suggestion that by encouraging faith schools to forge links with other schools we will create a society that is more understanding and tolerant of the diverse cultures is a false hope.

    There is a place for faith groups – but it is not faith schools – it could be after schools clubs – sunday / friday schools in churches, temples, mosques, synagogues etc.

    Schools should be a secular place – much as the country is where we teach children to grow up learning that all of them have the same rights, responsibilites and opportunities regardless of their faith.

  • I think faith schools are very important. I went to a militantly religious school and it turned me into the atheist I am today!

  • Clegg is looking weak here. On the balance of probabilities he says he doesn’t believe that a god(s) exist, but is bringing his children up as Catholics and thinks that faith schools have an important role in education. I’d prefer an affirmed theist leader, who realised that secularism doesn’t mean anti-religious.

  • Faith schools in the US (private of course) are a warning of where we’ll end up in the UK if we promote these pernicious institutions any further. Nick Clegg certainly looks weak on this topic – perhaps it’s just as well it’s not one which the voters will concentrate on….

  • Lib Dem member 30th Dec '07 - 3:32pm

    You say weak, I say tolerant. He doesn’t believe in God, but he respects other people’s freedom to believe.

    If strength means forcing your views on others (you believe in God? sorry, close that school now – and never open another one), then that gives strength a rather bad name.

    Being liberal doesn’t mean you ban anyone who disagrees with you. It means respecting other people’s views and choices.

  • Lib Dem member 30th Dec '07 - 3:38pm

    Not very liberal are you Colin? If you were really a liberal, you’d believe in tolerance – but you clearly hate pepole who disagree with you, even verging on accussing each and every Muslim of being a murderer. That’s not tolerant. That’s not liberal. That’s nasty and extreme.

  • Peter Bancroft 30th Dec '07 - 3:45pm

    Like Nick I don’t believe in God, and unlike Nick I actually probably would never send children of mine to a religious school, but I still think that if parents want to send their children to a religious school, then fine.

    I think that schools should be run by as wide a range of providers as possible – from local councils, charities, NGOs, and, yes, religious groups. And yes, I think that parents who want a particular provider should be able to get state funding towards their child’s education.. I can’t see how it’s liberal to insist on a state controlled monopoly to protect the state’s schools.

    I understand the concerns people have about faith schools (which is why I don’t like them myself), but if parents want to bring their children up in a faith then they’re going to do so. I wouldn’t myself, but I have many friends who are Christian, Muslim and Sikh and they don’t seem irreparably damaged goods. Better they get an excellent education rather than having their parents still bring them up in a religion and end up with a poor education at the end of it.

    Ultimately the liberal issue is of course that no parents can force their children to actually believe something – if they are athiest at the age of 12 or whatever after growing up in a faith school, then so be it.

  • Gosh, don’t we all get terribly worked up on this?

    I’m a firm agnostic (yes, I’ve noticed the inherent contradiction there), yet I’ve no huge problem with schools which have a faith-based ethos subject to a number of provisos:

    1. they should operate WITHIN an essentially secular public structure;
    2. they should respect the legal mores (you know what I mean) of the wider community (i.e. non-racist, non homophobic etc);
    3. they should not “indoctrinate”, which is something very different from observing a faith-based philosophy;
    4. they should not recruit or discriminate on basis of faith of families.

    To listen to some of the firmer anti-faith school elements on here you would think every such establishment is staffed entirely by child-abusing Jesuits or mad mullahs.

    The vast majority of those involved in such schools are simply trying to help children, with a motivation coloured (strengthened?) by their religious convictions. I do not share their convictions, but I respect and admire their commitment to a wider society.

    Is that illiberal ????

  • Angus J Huck 30th Dec '07 - 7:56pm

    I feel a little bit uncomfortable writing this post, since my inclination as a Lib Dem member is to support my leader. Sadly, I am unable to offer much comfort to Nick in this instance.

    What Nick wrote on that Jewish website is a typical piece of Nick waffle: attempting to appeal to everyone without saying anything very concrete, yet ending up offending about everyone.

    State-funded “faith” schools exist primarily because the Labour Party, as long ago as the 1930s, made a Mephistopholean pact with the RC Church: church schools in return for votes. A segregated system already existed in Scotland and Northern Ireland. The comprehensive reorganisation of the 1960s and 1970s enabled Labour to deliver it in England too.

    So, having allowed the Roman Catholics to have their own education system funded by the state, it is rather difficult to deny the same facility to Moslems, Jews, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Pagans, or whomever.

    The Roman Catholics will fight like tigers to keep their privileges. Posts such as mine will be met with cries of religious persecution, and any politician who stands up to them is likely to suffer at the ballot-box (Evan Harris watch your back).

    Every time the late Bob Mellish was interviewed on the radio he managed to get in somewhere that he was a “devout” Roman Catholic and he would fight tooth and nail to keep Catholic schools. Like David Alton, Mellish was in Parliament to represent the Church, not his constituents – or at least that is how it appeared sometimes. In the face of this kind of thing it is easy to see why politicians are so craven.

    The whole worrisome issue has taken on an added piquancy now that it seems that the ultramontaine tendency is in control of the RC Church in England. See the post below:

    http://observer.guardian.co.uk/uk_news/story/0,,2233421,00.html

    Why should my taxes be used to pay priests to feed this garbage to children?

    Again, I am sorry to have to say this, but Nick’s admission that his children are being brought up as Roman Catholics is a sign of weakness. If he cannot prevail against his own wife, what chance does he have against Cheney?

  • Hmmm.

    I care little about whether a school is religious or not. Only whether it does it job. The only fanaticism appears to be a problem with one or two islamic schools.

    Faith schools are an easy target. Why don’t people attack the lousy state schools, where violence – including appalling homophobia – are the norm?

    Since when do faith school produce insular people? Our sink state shools produce people who cannot read or write. That’s the issue.

    Our education system is a disaster; the faith schools are the only option for those who can’t afford private fees.

    But that does not bother those who attack faith schools; they, after all, are usually hypocrites who ensure their children quietly go to the very best – usually private or, yes, faith schools.

    When the critics of faith schools wade into state schools and deal with the violent thugs who could knife you even if they think you are gay, or if you want to learn – that’s when I’ll take you seriously.

    But no, you’ll pick on the easy targets and to hell with the others. Just chavs, eh?

  • Richard Church 30th Dec '07 - 8:31pm

    As a party which advocates fairness, I hope we want to extend that to the education system.

    Is it fair that some people should have a better access to a state funded school because of the religion of their parents? Is it fair that some people should have better access to state funded jobs as teachers because of their religion?

    Is it fair that non religious parents in many parts of the country have no reasonable choice but to send their children to the local faith primary school?

    State funded faith schools simply distort equal access and fairness in the education system. They lead to the nonsense of parents puffing up their religious credentials simply in order to get their children into a particular school.

    Our Liberal principles should lead us to ensuring that all people have an equal right of access to education. We are against selection on ability, so we should be against selection on faith.

  • If party members genuinely believed against selection by faith or ability, then how is it we don’t have legions of party members sending their children to the local state school?

    Could it be becuase there is too much of a chance the local stance is a crap one, full of violence and illiteracy?

    The fact the debate is about faith schools, rather than state school standards – or all schools standards – simply tells us that party members have little experience in this. Possibly becuase members can afford to send their kids to the best, whilst hypocritically preaching something else – applicable to other people’s children, of course.

  • local school, that should read above…

  • “Possibly because those schools need to be helped, not attacked?”

    So, why aren’t you ‘helping’them then? Why are we talking about faith schools, when so many children life chances are being wiped out by crap schooling in state ones? (which of course we find in some faith schools too?)

    “And you think there is no overall cost to faith schooling? When it comes to faith schools, there really is such a thing as a free lunch?”

    They are rather better vaule for money for than state ones, who produce unemployable people who go into low paid jobs, benefits or prison. What’s the cost of that to those people?

    But its evident that’s a cost that you aren’t paying.

    “Ah, so there is a cost . . .”

    Glib answer, perhaps you don’t think such shools are real? Wrong areas, no doubt.

    “Well you’ve got a point there. Anyone who can afford the £9 membership fee must be rolling in it.”

    The party is a middle class one. I’ve come accross a number of Lib dem parents. None send their offspring to the local state school. But they would no doubt insist they ‘really’ believe in them, but only for other people’s kids (i.e. people on estates).

  • Thank you colinW.

    I apologise for my illiteracy. I just fire these things off. But then, you see, I went to a crap state school. Violence, low standards, all that stuff people like you approve of – providing only others suffer it.

    But the good news is, I wasn’t indoctrinated by any priests into believing in mystical things such as “literacy”.

    Oh, and I’m a lib dem of many years standing.

    cue “no you are not”, “tory” blah blah blah

  • Yasmin Zalzala 30th Dec '07 - 11:19pm

    I thought the Lib Dems did not believe in faith school?

    When did this change of policy happen?

  • I’m with Sid on this one. As a parent whose 3 children went to and still go to state schools,including a secondary school not deemed good enough for so-called ‘left winger’, Diane Abbotts son, I think we miss the point when we get so hung up about faith schools. The point for me is that we do not live in a secular country, and from my own years in a state school, where the only mandatory lessons were RE (read Christianity for all), if you have CoE or Catholic schools, then you cannot exclude other faith schools. This is the reality. I would defy any politician from any party, particularly those seeking power, to put in their manifesto they would scrap all faith schools. Its never gonna happen. So lets look at why why generations of children have been failed by the education system that has allowed what Alistair Campbell so charmingly called ‘bog standard secondary schools’ The rich will always be able to buy their way out, either into the private sector, or simply move near the best state of faith schools. This leaves many children with little choice but to remain in sink schools.
    As for the point about Nick Cleggs own kids being brought up as Catholics: That is a matter for him and his wife.

  • ah… Laurence, I see your point is more ideological. Ok. My concern is best education. Faith schools tend to provide a better education. Plenty of exceptions, but that tends to be the case.

    Hence, it could thus be said that state schools are benefiting unfairly at the expense of faith ones?

    If it were the other way around, I would be saying faith schools were not up to it.

    We’ve had faith schools for years; we do not see armies of Christian fundamentalists in the streets.

    We do, however, see a lot of violent kids on the streets – and a majority I am sure will have gone to state schools. For them, ‘reason’ often has no meaning.

  • Meral

    Your experience is important, I hope party members think upon it.

    Sid

  • Douglas Oliver 31st Dec '07 - 12:35am

    The issue here is not so much the relative educational malevolence which different types of religious schools or non-denominational offer . Rather it is the inevitable wedge that faith-based schools drive between communities. The dangers of which are obvious by any inspection of Northern Ireland where attempts to break-down inter-communal problems are significantly undermined by the institutional social divisions caused by religious schooling.
    As liberals – as a fundamental prinicple – we should surely be defending pluralistic education which exposes children to the fullest possible range of religious and cultural traditions and hence enables them to chose an identity based on their personal thought and judgement rather than communal identity.

  • But Douglas, Northern Ireleand is rather different situation. The argument there is/was about what country it is.

    We’ve had faith schools for a long time now on the mainland, and it has created no such problems at all. Sectarian strife is rather limited – a bit in Scotland, really.

  • Sid, faith schools are allowed to be selective on whom they take and it just so happens they take less children eligible for free schools meals than non-religious school and more children with ambitious parents. It is hardly surprising then that they get better results.

    Surely a school that educates children on the wide range of beliefs found in our pluralist society and invites them to draw their own conclusions on religious matters is more likely to produce more inquisitive, independent and self-controlled individuals?

  • Paul

    Well, not really, no. Faith schools turn out more inquisitive, independent, self-controlled kids than the state sector (on the whole) Just need to see kids on public transport to see that.

    And faith school are hardly the fundamentalist establishments people think. Is our country crawling with catholic and protestant extremists due to decades of church schools? er, no.

    Ethos is the big difference. Discipline, methods of teaching etc. tend to be different in faith shools. Hence the fight to get into those schools.

    A fight that indeed does benefit people who are better off. Often people who then pronounce on the joys of the state sector for others.

    And therein lies the problem. The system benefits those opposed to selection, because that means less competition from smart kids from estates, whose parents do not have the contacts, no matter how motivated they may be.

    Our society has become less socially mobile. Nothing to do with faith schools – the abolition of which will simply make worse.

  • rather annoyed! However, it is not true that faith schools choose completely on such criteria. They do actually have children of other faiths or none.

    however, that is not the real issue facing communities. A far more likely scenario is having a sink sate school (and indeed the occassional faith one)on your doorstep, and not being able to afford sending your child a long way to go to a decent school.

    That is the real problem people face.

    We see the results in our society today; so many kids so badly educated that we have to get in poles to do their work. That includes nurses, doctors etc – not just the low paid stuff.

  • Elizabeth Patterson 31st Dec '07 - 9:58am

    It is disappointing to see that our new leader is still waffling! It was excusable during the leadership campaign where it might be seen as wishing to avoid conflict with his rival/colleague. But now he should be very clear in his views. I’ve also received a New Year’s message from Nick which is very long and waffly. “I don’t want to live in a country where….. etc.”

    But on the subject, Faith schools, we should be firm; where the state picks up the bill it can surely insist that single faith teaching is separated from curriculum teaching and is optional for all pupils according to their parents wishes.
    And that all state funded schools provide teaching in the different religions of the world as part of the curriculum.

    My own experience is that the family influence will matter most. I sent my son to a C of E school because, as an atheist, I wanted him to have the opportunity to take the christian message from those who believe it. But after one year, at age six, he would ask me questions about it from the angle of, “But what do you believe” . I would respond with a simple account of evolution, and he decided that this was easier than god.

    In defence of Nick on one point, I understand that in mixed Catholic marriages the parties have to agree to bring up any children in the catholic faith.

    Elizabeth

  • Merals experience is important and her point is spot on. No party who seeks power will advocate abolishing faith schools

    Nick probably is waffling a bit as he is treading a fine line but as far as I am concerned he has got it about right

    As for those who think Nick should ride roughshod over the views of his wife which planet do you live on 🙂

  • Richard Church 31st Dec '07 - 10:07am

    Sid, as you say at 44, the real problem to solve is have a ‘sink’ school on your doorstep. Faith schools though are an obstacle to that solving problem, not a solution.

    Faith is used as an excuse for parents to get their children away from that school. They suddenly turn up at church on Sunday and discover god. Belive me it happens! The sink school sinks even further as kids with less motivated parents remain.

    Nick Clegg’s ‘pupil premium’ is part of the answer, another is to remove any state funded school’s right to select pupils or teachers on the basis of religion.

    Simple, straight forward, non discriminatory liberalism.

  • 60% of the pupils at my daughter’s Catholic school are from other faiths or none, the school act as both a faith school and a neighbourhood school for a very deprived ward (I know I’m their councillor). No one’s taxes subsides the ‘faith’ element of faith schools, if anything the church subsidises state education.

    I have wish to impose my beliefs on anyone else or their children; I want my children brought up in my faith as is my right under the European Convention of Human Rights and the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights; it is the only way they will be able to make an informed choice as adults. The only reason for abolishing faith schools is a backdoor attempt to deprive me of my human rights it seems.

  • 50. David – how does indoctrinating your children with ancient mythology equip them to make informed decisions on faith as adults???
    And you admit that you have a wish to impose your beliefs on other people!!!
    Not very liberal, I’d’ve thought…

  • I really don’t recognise Sid’s description of the Party as being one of middle class people who largely use selective education, and I am certain that a large majority of party members have direct experience of state education.

    Having been thinking about my own education recently in comparison to that of my younger daughter, my ‘O’ level class had 35 pupils – far too large according to educational dogma, but in fact no problem at all because I was at a Grammar School and pupils who were disruptive could be slung out. My daughter’s education, at a comprehensive, was blighted by classes being disrupted by people who didn’t want to be there, and an anti-education ethos that pervaded the whole system.

    As someone in the thread has observed, one of the reasons that faith-based schools do better is that they have greater sanctions with regard to pupils who are disruptive, thus allowing the ones who do want to work to get on with it. Now, I am in no way wanting to write off the kids for whom education as it stands is a waste of time. My daughter had good friends in her class who it was clear from day one at secondary school were going to achieve nothing at the end of five years, and that is a failure of our educational system, not a failure of the kids. That is why it is so tragic that the government dismissed the proposals of the Tomlinson Report, and I am proud of the Party for supporting Tomlinson. If we take Tomlinson as a basis for the future of secondary education then perhaps what we need is more selection rather than none. If we have a much greater plurality in the type of educational provision then the chances of giving a genuine education to a high proportion of pupils should be improved. Having been partly educated at a Quaker influenced school, which did not prevent me from becoming an atheist, I feel that as long as provision of education becomes much more pluralist than it is now, and as long as the essential principles of pluralism are upheld within each school then having a faith basis in some schools should not be too much of a problem.

  • Rabi Martins 31st Dec '07 - 2:46pm

    A very interesting thread.

    I have to say No 24 advances yet another reason why the Party was right to reject faith schools at conference a few years back.

    Yasmin is right – this decsion has not yet been reversed

    Mike – I accept that faith schools that already exist cannot be shut down – nor their funding altered.

    I still contend that that is no reason to advocate new faith schools.

    As so many of the contributors have said we should be concerned with promoting a high standard of general education and ensuring ndviduals from all backgrounds – rich,poor,black,white – have equal access to the same high standard of education

    Incidentally I thought Liberal Democrats were against selection . the starting pont for faith schools is whether you meet the “faith criteria” So how do those of you who advocate faith schools square that circle?

  • 54. Way to go, GaffaUK! Exactly!!

  • 53 Felix that should be “I have no wish to impose my beliefs…”.
    I think my children will be able to look objectively at Catholicism (good and bad), and not be influenced by people who dismissively condemn it as ancient mythology.
    Democracy has ancient roots too. Pax Vobiscum

  • no.52, Tony. Just to clarify myself, I would think that many party members do have experience of state education, but many are able to get into the better ones.

    We don’t really see senior party people saying their children go to the local sink school, which is an experience far too many people in our country have to go through. If they did, the party’s thinking would be very different.

    However, I think you are on the right track with selection and so on. Kids do better with peers, and those who are not interested in learning need to be placed somewhere which can deal with their problems, and provide them with a decent future.

  • GaffaUK- the reality is you are far more likely to get tolerant children from a faith school, then a state one. Check out the violent kids. Check out the violent homophobic attitudes in state schools.

    And as I keep asking: Where are these legions of intolerant people that faith schools supposedly produce? where are they hiding, all these decades? we are talking a few million people.

    instead of bashing faith schools, those who oppsose them should really be looking in their own back yard, before criticising others.

  • GaffaUK; its no secret that faith schools overall do better than state ones. No secret also, that state schools turn out more disaffected kids – for whom tolerence is an unknown word.

    More to the point, could you demonstrate those millions of intolerent people who went to faith schools?

    Where are they exactly?

  • A very brief look thru google brings up two telegraph pieces, first more factual on primaries, the second a comment referring to secondary schools which refers to a survey on the matter:

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml;jsessionid=3YZNFTBGZ35Z5QFIQMGCFFOAVCBQUIV0?xml=/news/2006/12/07/nschools07.xml

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2007/12/06/nedu306.xml

    Now, I think some will rightly point out that the better off/motivated gravitate here. That’s because faith schools have better techniques, which many state schools do not wish to apply – or prevented from doing.

    No matter how motivated a chid’s parent are, if they end up in a bad school, they will do badly, no matter how smart the kid is. I know, seen it with my own eyes.

    Hence the middle class flight to the best school, using all their connections, whilst praising the state sector, non-selection for other people’s childrens.

    We need to get to grips with the collapse in edcucatin. Nick’s ideas may help, but we must be far more radical.

  • ha! in my typo ridden piece, I did mean “education”. My state education showing again!

  • Violent homophobia: Seen with my own eyes. If you are unaware of that sub-culture,and dismiss it some telegrap thing, then I am sorry but you are leading a very sheltered life.

    Perhaps you recall the Damilola Taylor case? He was the subject of homophobic bullying at his school, which no-one did anything about. Sure, you will get this at church schools, but its more prevalent in state ones.

    Faith schools do not do better because they teach faith. They do better because of ethos: respect for learning, discipline and so on.

    The upper middle class flight to such schools has been going for some time. State schools changed teaching methods, years back. Many faith schools did not.

    We see the results in society today. Observe politics; we laugh about the similarity between between the education between Cameron, Clegg and Huhne and their backgrounds and so on.

    Not so long ago, people with modest backgrounds were able to achieve the highest office in politics via state schools. Now, it is near impossible.

    And that is nothing to do with faith schools, and everything to do with teaching methods and so on.

  • Richard Church 31st Dec '07 - 7:05pm

    David at 50. You want a right to educate your child in your faith but acknowledge that 60% of the chidren at your daughter’s RC school are of other religions or none. What rights do they have?

    You describe it as a neighbourhood school, but if people want their right to a non religious education for their chidren in their neighbourhood, they are denied it.

    The right of a child to be educated in a neighbourhood school, regardless of faith, is denied by state faith schools.

  • Angus J Huck 31st Dec '07 - 8:16pm

    First of all, I would like to clarify what I said in post 22:

    “Why should my taxes be used to pay priests to feed this garbage to children?”

    I may have given the impression that I regard ALL Roman Catholic beliefs as “garbage”. That is not the case. I was actually referring to the RC Bishop of Lancaster’s call to Catholic schools in his diocese not to teach children to practice safe sex. That is “garbage”, in fact very dangerous and pernicious “garbage”, as it Mr O’Donoghue’s justification. That story is in the link provided. Not immediately obvious to readers, so sorry!

    Sid is concerned about the issue of sink schools, as indeed we all should be. Sadly, isolating motivated students in a few good schools won’t solve the problem. The biggest cause of poor school discipline is the school leaving age, presently set at 16 and due to be extended to 18 by Brown. If we put it back to 14 (where it was prior to 1944), school discipline would improve markedly.

    When David talks about his human right to send his children to a segregated Roman Catholic school, he is talking about his own right, not those of his children. What about the right of his children not to be told that if they disobey the Church they will go to hell and burn for eternity? Or not to be told that the use of a condom is a mortal sin?

    Unless, of course, David concurs with John Patten MP, the former Tory education minister who said that fear of hellfire is essential to the maintenance of order.

  • the old grammar/secondary modern worked better in educating people overall, but I would rather do something else.

    Streaming within schools isn’t a bad idea, but perhaps we should look to Europe, Germany perhaps, and see what we can take to improve things here.

  • MartinSGill 2nd Jan '08 - 10:56am

    Schools should teach about religion, but should not teach religion. Tell them what religions there are, what they stand for, what they’ve done, the good and also the bad. Schools should educate, not indoctrinate.

    Give kids the information to make up their own minds. When we allow parents the “choice” of sending kids to a faith school, we are perverting the right of children to chose their own beliefs; we are preventing them from gaining the knowledge and the chance, to critically evaluate what they and others believe.

    Sending a child to a faith school is no different than sending a child to a pro-racist school. Instead of allowing children to form their own beliefs, we are placing them in an environment where a belief is explicitly accepted as correct and anyone who disagrees is immediately an outsider and at odds with authority.

    I was an atheist at school (although I didn’t call myself that) and whenever I criticised religion and highlighted inconsistencies the pressure on me from teachers to shut-up and conform was noticeable and heavy with unspoken repercussions if I dared speak my mind. This was in only a mildly religious school and I dread to think how kids at strongly religious schools are treated when they disagree with the school and their parent’s views. This type of pressure to conform is a hallmark of indoctrination.

    People that claim abolishing faith schools is illiberal are violating the rights of the children in favour of the rights of the parents.

    Schools should be secular and should take no position whatsoever on the validity or otherwise of faiths and beliefs. Parents are free to teach about their faith and beliefs at home.

    That is the only stance I believe any liberal person can take, since it protects both the rights of the children to an unbiased education and the freedom to chose their own path and the rights of the parents to pass on their values.

  • sidcumberland 2nd Jan '08 - 2:21pm

    Just for my own peace of mind, may I clarify that the Sid contributing to this thread is not me.

    Sid Cumberland

  • no.85 – no you can’t, all Sids must be treated as one!!

    I’ve read all the above at length and, just as I was doing that, MartinSGill has nipped in front of me with the finest post of all.

    Religion, like it or not (and I’m a fan of Dawkins, should you care) is one more aspect of life/society and should be taught, if at all, alonside Home Economics, Photography, whatever. It is not as important as the ‘three Rs’, but if people really want to believe, let them (personally, I’d keep it in Sunday Schools, but hey, let’s be realistic for now).

    Otherwise … what about Lib Dem schools?! In fact, Arsenal-fan schools for Atheist Lib Dems – they sound great!!

  • Angus J Huck 2nd Jan '08 - 4:26pm

    Jock @ 84:

    Anyone interested in learning the “ethos” of boarding schools should watch Lindsay Anderson’s “If”.

  • sidcumberland 2nd Jan '08 - 4:45pm

    Martin Gill – spot on.

    The three Rs – resourcefulness, resilience, reflectiveness.

    And ‘If….’ is one of the great films of all time.

    Sid C

  • Yasmin Zalzala 2nd Jan '08 - 8:16pm

    If party policy is still against faith school, why is the new leader singing their praises suddenly?

    Is he going against party policy or is it policy making by the leader?

  • sidcumberland 2nd Jan '08 - 9:05pm

    Or is he saying what he thinks?

    Sid Cumberland

  • Angus J Huck 2nd Jan '08 - 9:45pm

    Auberon Waugh once said he took a particular dislike to Jeremy Thorpe because, with his fancy waistcoats, he reminded him of the prefects at Downside Abbey.

    Ampleforth, I guess, is something similar to Downside Abbey.

    Roman Catholic boarding schools had a reputation for brutality which far surpassed any other kind of educational establishment, even the Eton of Chenevix-Trench (as portrayed in “If…”), or Marlborough in the 1930s.

    Indeed, A N Wilson once said that boarding school life was so horrible that the compulsory sodomy came as light relief.

    I was fortunate that my parents detested the idea of boarding schools just as much as I did. If they had sent me to one, I would have walked.

    They are evil places, and I would happily see the lot of them converted into hotels.

  • Hywel Morgan 2nd Jan '08 - 10:48pm

    “Anyone interested in learning the “ethos” of boarding schools should watch Lindsay Anderson’s “If”.”

    I could but I think my 7 years at a real one gave me a pretty good idea of the difference between fact and fiction.

  • Angus J Huck 2nd Jan '08 - 11:44pm

    Ampleforth used to be under the control of Cardinal Basil Vass, the “nice” and “acceptable” face of British Roman Catholicism. But even he, it now appears, protected paedophile priests.

    Jock Coats clearly fears he will go to hell and burn for eternity unless he defends his Church. Fair enough, I suppose. He doesn’t like high temperatures.

    All I can say is that in the pre-Cleveland era (before the words “child sexual abuse” were common currency), I can remember former inmates of Catholic boarding schools telling me of sexual abuse by priests and how the Church covered it up.

    I have never come across child sexual abuse myself, in any environment (and they are exclusively non-Catholic).

    At least Jock Coats had the sense not to waste his life as a monk, which is something in his favour. Fancy any ADULT taking a vow of obedience to an abbot.

  • Angus J Huck 3rd Jan '08 - 12:05am

    Cardinal Basil Vass?

    Oh right. You see, in 1963, there was a story about Aberdeen City Council, and some newspaper (I forget which one) published pictures of “Provost Knowles” and “Baillie Vass”. Except that, by mistake, Baillie Vass’s mugshot didn’t appear, but that of Sir Alec Douglas-Home did. So henceforth, Douglas-Home became “Baillie Vass, the imposter”, and anyone called “Home” or “Hume” is known as “Vass”. Richard Ingrams at his wittiest.

  • This thread seems to have digressed in to debating the violence and intolerance at religious boarding schools, which is not exactly the typical faith school.

    For what it’s worth. The catholic schools in my area tend to be nothing like the ones described on here. They tend to take people from all sorts of religious backgrounds and from both poor and well-off families. Their exam results are good but nowhere near the best in the city. At the same time their pupils are seen as some of the biggest trouble makers in the area when they hang around the local shops. So we can’t make such sweeping generalisations about faith schools of any sort.

    To me though the ethos and exam results at religious schools are irrelevant (you can create that in any school if you want to). At the end of the day I just don’t think schools should be run by religious faiths. But as Meral has pointed out, no political party is ever going to abolish the faith schools that we already have as it would be too unpopular, and I quite understand that even if it goes against my own principles.

  • Martin Land 3rd Jan '08 - 11:23am

    I think the key point about faith schools is participation. Their affiliation to a body within the community means thay are able to have active governor’s bodies and often an active PTA. Therefore the lesson appears to be that community affiliation in one form or another aids performance and results – something LDs shouldn’t have any problems disagreeing with.

    However, perhaps this could be extended to the rest of the community?
    Gladstone College, St Neots and David LLoyd George Infants School have a certain ring to my ear at least.

    But of course, people would be horrified by an prospect, even within a strongly prescribed national curriculum, of schools based on the views of one political party.

    But apparently not the views of a church or mosque or synagogue.

  • Quite right Andrew, let’s get back to the original debate here.

    “No political party is ever going to abolish the faith schools that we already have as it would be too unpopular, and I quite understand that even if it goes against my own principles.”

    I don’t entirely disagree with that, but, as the so-called “radical voice”, is it not time we took a stand?!

    I actually believe, in this ever-increasingly polarised world we live in that, over the next 50 years or so, atheism/secularism (whatever we call it) will grow, but so will Religious Fundamentalism – being shown now in the US, Middle-East, Africa, etc. That will leave us in a very worrying situation. About time the Lib Dems took a stand I reckon …

  • sidcumberland 3rd Jan '08 - 11:35am

    Alex G – hear, hear.

    As part of a whole package addressing tolerance/integration/fundamentalism, the abolition of faith schools makes sense. It might be unpopular – but we already have two parties that will sell their souls for popularity. It would certainly make people think.

    Sid

  • MartinSGill 3rd Jan '08 - 1:23pm

    @90 Jock Coats

    “I had to take quite a long look at the materials used, for example, at Ampleforth for religious education classes as without a degree in any other academic subject that is what I would have ended up being asked to teach if I had become a monk there and, as I say, it was very discursive and explanatory with lots of discussion of other faiths without being “indoctrinating”. More a grounding in moral philosophy than fire and brimstone preaching.”

    The point here is that I’m talking about subtle indoctrination, not the Spanish inquisition conformity-through-terror thing.

    At a faith school you spend an hour or two a week learning about how other faiths are good and respectable as well. If they are so respectable and worthy, then why isn’t the school or the teachers following those other beliefs?

    In the remaining 35 hours (or whatever) a week children are immersed in an environment where everywhere around you, from logos, mottoes, posters, the attitude and demeanour of teachers, you are being consistently told that the school’s faith is the correct one, the true one, the best one.

    Not to mention daily prayers/chapel that is considered one of the more important aspects of many faith schools and further acts to rub in the message that their belief is the greatest and the only true way.

    In such an environment there is no counter-point, no mixed culture nor dissenting voices. You get one view and one view only. If you dissent there are teachers all around you to argue and dissuade and cajole and manipulate you into believing as they do; depending on their respective temperaments; if you’re still struggling with your faith, I’m sure the school Chaplin (the person most experienced at deflecting what you think back onto the correct path) will hear your confession. There’s no one at that school you can turn to who will tell and encourage you to go your own way, to find your own path; no one to set an example that another way is just as valid and fulfilling. It’s in the school’s best interest to make sure you go down their path. The entire school is biased against someone finding their own way against finding a different way. Conformism.

    The hour of divinity or RE or whatever it’s called nowadays is the token gesture that the faith school supporters like to trot out so they can pretend that they are being “fair” and “respecting” of other beliefs. They use it to distract from all the subtle, subliminal lessons the kids are exposed to all day long.

  • 116. Perhaps not political parties, but groups like the co-operative movement, should be allowed to establish schools with their ethos like faith schools.

    117. But Alex – the USA does not tolerate state faith schools, and yet as you say fundamentalism is on the increase.

  • This is pretty wishy-washy stuff from Clegg. I’m assuming there must be some secret reason why no major party wants to pull the plug on faith schools, given that they are not popular with the general public and are often divisive.

    See for example this report.

  • 124. given that they are not popular with the general public and are often divisive.

    That depends on where you are and what questions you ask.

    They can be divisive in places like Central Scotland (the place you cite) as there has historically been animosity between Catholics and protestants. Just look at Celtic vs Rangers. In the rest of the UK, (except NI), that largely isn’t the case.

    If you ask people whether they agree with faith schools they will often think of Muslim schools (which is where a post-9/11 suspicion of what Muslims may be teaching unfortunately comes in to play ) or they think of the more extreme Christian groups (where they worry that they will learn about creationism). If you ask people about C of E schools then they will probably be much more positive, particularly in rural areas where they tend to be far more commonplace than in cities.

    I would normally agree that political parties should take a principled stance, but I also think there are times when you have to compromise if you are running against the views of much of the public.

  • Great quote from Herbert Spencer @90 Jock. Have you got the reference? Thanks.

  • Yasmin Zalzala 3rd Jan '08 - 6:26pm

    Sid Cumberland

    As part of a whole package addressing tolerance/integration/fundamentalism, the abolition of faith schools makes sense. It might be unpopular – but we already have two parties that will sell their souls for popularity. It would certainly make people think

    Sid, Are you telling me that the Liberal Democrats will not sell their souls for popularity and more MP’s in parliament?

  • Thank you Jock.

  • @125

    Here’s a Guardian poll from 2005 showing 64% of the public oppose ‘faith schools of any kind’.

    Laurence is right that times are changing, and we’re not keeping up with them. Even a commitment to not expand faith schools would be good, and you know Labour and the Tories wouldn’t be able to easily follow us.

  • sidcumberland 3rd Jan '08 - 10:46pm

    I don’t think Spencer’s quote is all that brilliant. It certainly wouldn’t sustain Jock’s suggestion that ‘The real answer is for the state not to deliver education.’

    Sid C

  • sidcumberland 3rd Jan '08 - 10:49pm

    Anax (130) The problem is that if we don’t allow expansion of faith schools, we’re left with only Christian schools (and a handful of Jewish schools). Which in turn creates a basic inequality in society. Faith schools for all faiths – or for none.

    Sid C

  • Thanks Laurence – takes a fair while to get through the forum (all this thinking really isn’t conducive to work, it it!). Well done Sweden.

    2 quotes from there worth bringing to the table:

    “Weird & sinister is the way that the churches prey on weak & vulnerable people, including children. Lying to people about non-existent deities … and then offering a way out … Stopping the lying indoctrination of children in schools seems the only sane, ethical stance possible. Of course, if parents want to indoctrinate their children with such nonsense, that is up to them. Personally, the sooner the UK government shows the moral courage to stand up to the churches & mosques & tells them the same thing, the better for all our children. Way to go Sweden.”

    and I was also a fan of:

    “Government policy to allow and expand religious education stems from its inability to condemn certain lifestyles and behaviours because it would be attacked by the bien-pensant liberal media elite for a lack of relativist orthodoxy. Instead it takes the cowardly and regressive route of letting the religions do the job for it.”

  • Just found this. Very disappointing to see Clegg’s view on faith schools, otherwise known as ‘indoctrination centres’.

    There’s a wealth of evidence that shows faith schools are harmful to societal cohesion – http://www.vexen.co.uk/religion/faithschools.html#Against . Why are none of our politicians acting on that?

    I thought my vote would be securely Lib Dem on election day… not so sure now.

  • We shouldn’t tolerate a whites-only school, we shouldn’t tolerate a straights-only school, so why should we tolerate a christians-only school?

    Teaching pupils in an ‘us and them’ setting entrenches an ‘us and them’ mentality, leading to segregation, mistrust and in some cases outright hostility and ghettoisation.

    There is no good reason at all for faith schools (or to use their more accurate name, sect schools). They should be turned into normal schools so that people are not forced to choose between a school that is far away or less successful and a school that will openly try to brainwash your child with the governments blessing.

    Yes some sect schools aren’t that religious, but some of them are outright fanatical, and the only way to get rid of the dangerous ones is to no longer allow schools to discriminate based on religion and ignore rules that real schools have to abide by.

    Learn the lessons taught by the hateful indoctrination that has been uncovered at the King Fahad Academy and require all schools to be secular asap.

  • I’m on the ‘faith schools sceptics’ side of this debate.

    One question, however – article 26(3) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states: “Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.”

    For those of us who would like to see a shift in our leader’s opinion and party policy on this issue, how can we do this whilst not contravening human rights laws which, as liberals, we should be passionately defending?

  • simon wilson 10th Nov '08 - 3:36pm

    “it has to be a small minority or it wouldn’t be a faith school any more of whatever faith it is supposed to be”

    wrong on several points-I have close links with a Church of England Primary School in Oldham which is 99% Muslim.

  • Robert Kaye 10th Nov '08 - 4:18pm

    “For those of us who would like to see a shift in our leader’s opinion and party policy on this issue, how can we do this whilst not contravening human rights laws which, as liberals, we should be passionately defending?”

    Most parents do not want their children to go to faith schools, so by converting many of them into secular schools we would in fact be upholding this right. I strongly oppose being forced to send my son to a faith school, and yet there is only one non-faith school nearby, and even that is quite a long way away. If that school does not have the room for him, I will be forced, in contravention of that part of the Human Rights Act you quoted, to send him to a faith school, or a more distant failing secular school.

    As to banning faith schools entirely without breaching this section of the Human Rights Act, there ought to be some exemption based on discrimination. It would not be permissible to demand that few or no homosexuals be taught at your child’s school, so why demand that few or no non-christians be taught? In fact it seems that faith schools are illegal, as Article 9 (& 10 to a lesser extent) of the Human Rights Act forbids discrimination based on religion.

    Check out the wikipedia article on faith schools. It shows with example after example that the public mostly oppose them and that they lead to discrimination, divisiveness and in some cases even a threat to national security.

  • Sid/Robert – I agree with your points; I’m just unsure whether phasing out faith schools would not be susceptible to legal challenge.

  • Robert Kaye 10th Nov '08 - 4:38pm

    I’m certain that it would, as would pretty much all cases of discrimination being overthrown. It’s still worth a try though, especially given that this is what the majority of the British public want (from what I can tell). Even if the majority opposed it, it’s still the right thing to do.

  • Robert Kaye 10th Nov '08 - 4:38pm

    (That should be ‘as have pretty much all cases of discrimination being overthrown’).

  • No one proposes telling parents that aren’t allowed to religiously indoctrinate their own children, only that the education system has absolutely no business aiding that indoctrination, but so long as the state permits and even funds sectarian schools that is precisely what it is doing.

  • What is “state indoctrination” when it’s at home?

  • Robert Kaye 10th Nov '08 - 6:43pm

    State schools do not indoctrinate children into worshipping anything. They are free to believe in whatever they want by coming to their own conclusions. Parents are also free to teach their children religious beliefs.

    It is a common complaint among teachers, particularly when it comes to teaching children who are disruptive, that teachers are not surrogate parents. It is not the teacher’s job to tell children how to behave and what beliefs they must hold, only to teach the facts regarding their chosen subject. This is another important reason why faith schools should not exist. They are playing the part of a parent, an unwelcome surrogate parent trying to teach values that the real parent does not want taught to the child. It is unlikely that they would teach the child what to think and believe while the parent is around, which makes it all the more devious for them to do this at length once the parent is out of sight.

  • Cf Herbert Spencer, CHAPTER XXVI National education, from Social Statics.

    Oh right, you’re one of those libertarian head-bangers then. Sorry, missed that, otherwise I could have dismissed your opinions earlier and saved us both some time.

    I particularly like this bit:

    “Should it be said that the rights of the children are involved, and that state-interposition is required to maintain these, the reply is that no cause for such interposition can be shown until the children’s rights have been violated, and that their rights are not violated by a neglect of their education…

    … Now the parent who is careless of a child’s education does not do this. The liberty to exercise the faculties is left intact. Omitting instruction in no way takes from a child’s freedom to do whatsoever it wills in the best way it can; and this freedom is all that equity demands.”

    Thanks for the reminder, I’d forgotten what an odious arsewipe Spencer was.

  • Robert Kaye 10th Nov '08 - 8:22pm

    Jock it doesn’t force or pressure children to believe in any particular religion. State schools just tell facts and leave beliefs open and unbiased. This is not indoctrination. It doesn’t prevent children from learning as the children can add to what they learned at school either at home or at a library. It doesn’t forbid alternatives either.

    What do you think indoctrination is?

  • Robert Kaye 10th Nov '08 - 8:50pm

    But Jock, the education system /does/ develop their bodies. Have you not heard of PE? What the parent should do, because the parent made the child and it is his/her responsibility, is to provide for the child to keep him or her healthy. Raising a child does not count as developing their bodies, so your extract’s point fails. Raising a child is not the state’s or the education system’s role, unless no parent or guardian is available.

  • Robert Kaye 10th Nov '08 - 9:28pm

    Raising: When you help a child become an adult by keeping him/her healthy and teaching him/her about your opinions, behaviour, life experiences, beliefs and knowledge.

    Educating: When you tell a child the facts.

    And I’m not going to believe for a moment that Jamie Oliver is indoctrinating children. He’s launching a campaign to persuade people in general to eat healthier by telling them that certain food is healthier when it is a proven fact. This falls under the role of educator so is allowed. Now if he was forcing the children to eat healthier by prohibiting the sale of junk food to children, or perhaps started hypnotising children into thinking that fruit and veg are ‘pukka’ or maybe burst through the window with a swat team and forced courgettes down people’s throat’s you’d have a case. What you’re saying is that by informing people of the facts you indoctrinate them, but what alternative is there to telling people the facts? Don’t tell them anything? Lie to them? Until you come up with a better alternative, sign me up for some ‘indoctrination’.

  • Don’t start me on Jamie Oliver – did anyone see him before the select committee recently? “I’ve not got a good word to say about the EU.” He was a shambles.

  • Jock,
    are you saying that it’s impossible to trust a person’s statement that they do or don’t believe in god unless they can actually explain what god is or is not?

  • Well that is the job of a legal guardian, isn’t it?

  • I think this thread highlights the problem of ‘bad faith’.

  • Some day soon, somebody needs to publish a robust and informed argument against faith-schools, consolidating these concerns.

  • Have you people ever thought of asking the children whether or not they want to go to faith schools? I went to a public state school in year 7 but then from year 8-11 I was made to attend a faith school. I was constantly being preached to, told what I could and couldn’t do and I felt my freedom was taken away from me. Surely if faith schools are going to remain in place we should actually check that the children are happy going to them, otherwise we are simply removing their human rights and not giving them enough options in life.

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